Archive for July, 2009

Here are some suggestions for those who’ve never read the Bible before or who haven’t read it regularly for quite awhile. This topic comes up from time to time as I talk with people at church or at school. “Can you give me some tips” they’ll ask. Well, here is the first of several more to come in future installments.

First: Commit yourself to do it.

I realize that sounds fairly obvious, but many of us have the desire but lack the discipline. We need to make the decision that we’re actually going to read God’s Word on a regular basis. Yes, the Bible is a big book, but it’s not insurmountable. We can do it, though, if we commit ourselves to it.

“This Book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Josh. 1:8)

We can’t meditate on God’s Word, and we certainly can’t obey it, if we don’t read it. Everything God told Joshua is predicated upon the regular intake of the Bible.

Believe it or not, the Bible can be read in about 90 hours! That’s right, about 90 hours from cover to cover, all 1189 chapters. If you read every day, you’d need to read for 15 minutes – that’s all – to read through the entire Bible in one year. If you read 5 days per week instead of 7, you’d need to read for about 20 minutes. One hour and 45 minutes per week would reach the same goal. A time commitment like that shouldn’t be beyond any of our reaches. Most of us spend far more time checking our e-mail. Certainly, we could carve out 15 or 20 minutes for God’s Word – the Bible.

Commit yourself to read the Bible. Make a decision and stick with it even if you don’t feel like it – you’ll be blessed if you do!

(To be continued.)

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Mark, in his Gospel, gives more attention to the human emotions of the Lord Jesus Christ than the other three Gospel writers.

“But Jesus rebuked him (a demon), saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!” (Mark 1:25)

“Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” (Mark 1:41)

“And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once.” (Mark 1:43)

And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” (Mark 3:5)

“And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.'” (Mark 7:34)

“And he sighed deeply  in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.'” (Mark 8:12)

“And he answered them, ‘O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.'” (Mark 9:19)

“But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.'” (Mark 10:14)

It’s obvious that Jesus showed emotions. He was not, and is not, some sort of Spock-like character who is entirely logical and rational. In the passages above, which are limited to Mark’s Gospel, we see anger, pity, frustration, grief, and wrath. In John 11:33, 35, and 38, Jesus exhibited grief to the point of tears.

We need to remember that the emotions Jesus displayed were always within His nature and character. In other words, even though He displayed these emotions, He never sinned and never violated His own character. Yes, Jesus is fully God, but He is also fully human. If the Lord Jesus showed emotions, and He is fully human (an unfallen one at that), then we can safely say that emotions are part of the human makeup.

That comes as a news-flash to some of us (like me). I’m not all that expressive emotionally. I don’t know if that is a result of ethnicity, family dynamic, or personality, but the emotional aspect of my personal geography is largely undiscovered.

That needs to change because Jesus, my Lord and Saviour, had a well-balanced emotional life. He displayed the appropriate emotion appropriately and at the appropriate time. If you’re anything like me, we need to imitate Him in this matter. May we do it for the glory of God!

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Here’s some good advice from Buster Olney, baseball reporter and analyst with ESPN. He was responding to a question about what he’s learned from his years of reporting on baseball.

Most baseball players have a remarkable ability to put a bad day behind them, and I saw that and tried to draw on that. If you went 0-for-4 one day, that didn’t necessarily have to affect your ability to go 4-for-4 the next day – if you work to turn the page emotionally. I have tried to use that in my own work.

That sounds a lot like “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13b-14).

We have to be able to “turn the page” and move forward.

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Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts; the knowledge of God and of ourselves.

In the first place, no one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God, in whom he ‘lives and moves’ (Acts 17:28).

Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he as first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.

(John Calvin, “The Institutes of the Christian Religion,” I.1.1,2)

Thinking about ourselves will ultimately lead us to consider the God who made and sustains us, in other words. On the other hand, and equally as true, is the fact that when we meditate upon God, we can’t help but consider ourselves in the process. I can’t truly know myself unless I know God! Wise words from John Calvin.

I know that’s the way it works in my life. As I focus on God and His perfections (His attributes), my sins and sinfulness become all the more clear. When I see God’s goodness, I realize that I am not good. When I see His holiness, I am painfully aware that I am not holy. When I consider God’s righteousness, I’m left to consider my own unrighteousness. When I see God’s love, I understand clearly that I’m not loving. I could go on and on, but the point is clear.

We’re not left in that hopeless state, however. Knowledge of God convicts us of our sin, yes, but it also drives us to the cross of Jesus Christ. Our sin problem was solved on a cross, 2000 years ago, just outside of Jerusalem, as Jesus Christ – God in human flesh – absorbed the wrath of His Father on behalf of His people. As we put our trust and faith in Him and what He has accomplished, we are declared to be right with God. Not only do we know God, but we know ourselves, too.

If we don’t know God, we won’t know ourselves. If we don’t know ourselves, we won’t know, or be convinced of, our sinfulness and need of a Savior. If we don’t know we need a Savior, we won’t seek one. Calvin is right, true and sound wisdom consists of knowledge of God and ourselves. Everything starts there.

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My sermon this morning was an exposition of Mark 10:1-12 (we’re making our way through Mark’s Gospel and have been since I was called to pastor Immanuel). I titled it “Jesus On Divorce,” but a better title would have been “Jesus On Marriage.” The Lord’s answer to the question of the Pharisees focused on marriage, not divorce.

The passage breaks down like this:

A Wrong Question (verses 1 and 2). The Pharisees, hoping to trip Jesus up, ask Him whether or not a man may divorce his wife (Matt. 19:3 has the additional phrase “for any reason”). Their question was wrong because they asked with the wrong motives and had the wrong emphasis (a “loophole” to get out of a marriage rather than how to stay in one).

A Right Answer (verses 3-9). Jesus didn’t fall into the trap of quoting this or that rabbi as authoritative. He took them “back to the Bible” and explained God’s purpose for marriage. Questions regarding divorce make no sense if we fail to understand the original meaning of marriage from the One who created and instituted it. In effect, Jesus said, “What does the Bible say?” (A good example for all of us to follow!) Because of sin (“hardness of heart”), divorce is allowed for by God, but only under certain circumstances and never required. We can’t underestimate the effects of sin on marriage – remember that marriage is a union of two sinful people.

A Pointed Clarification (verses 10-12). Jesus’ answer to the disciples seems to be somewhat stark. No exception is given in this passage (we don’t know why – maybe it was already known by Mark’s readers). It’s possible that Jesus is reiterating the fact He meant what He said earlier. Matthew adds “except for sexual immorality” in the parallel account in 19:9. This difference highlights the importance of comparing Scripture with Scripture. Very rarely does a single verse or passage tell us everything about a given subject, which is the case witht his passage. We need to look at everything the Bible teaches about marriage and divorce before we come to any kind of conclusion or persuasion.

One of the ways we can live a radical life for Christ in our world is to have a good and godly marriage. It will be so unusual that people will notice – they won’t be able to ignore it.

It’s a fantastic passage! I hope I did it justice.

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If you’ve discussed your commitment to Jesus Christ or the gospel with people, you’ve undoubtedly heard this one: Christianity is just a crutch.

How do we respond to it?

Christianity is far more than a crutch, it’s a resurrection. Man doesn’t need a crutch, a cane, a walker, a wheelchair, a shot, or a pill – he needs to be risen from the dead and given new life. We’re dead, not simply sick, as a result of our transgressions and sin.

A crutch doesn’t help a dead man very much.  A resurrection to new and everlasting life through faith in Jesus Christ does help, though – more than we can ever know.

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Pyromaniacs has a now-and-then feature called “Next!” They’re short, to-the-point answers to often-asked questions.

Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I’ll make an attempt at my own “Next!”

Question: As a Christian, how much can I sin can I get away with?

Answer: How much water can you put in your gas tank and get away with it? How much mold needs to be on bread before you won’t eat it? Next!

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I preached a sermon on Hell this morning. No, not because I was mad at anybody or anything, but because it’s part of the text. I’ve been preaching through the Gospel of Mark and finished chapter nine last Sunday. In 9:43-48, as Jesus is explaining the high cost of discipleship, He mentions Hell three times and gives several descriptions of it. In my sermon on the larger passage, I didn’t deal with the subject of Hell much because it isn’t the main thrust of the passage – discipleship is.

This week, therefore, I wanted to spend some time focusing on the subject of Hell. I also wanted to make the point that I should preach about Hell as much as the Bible does. This passage, through the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, proclaims the reality of Hell, therefore I need to preach about it. It may be awhile before I preach about it again, but I’ll let the Word of God determine that.

Here was my outline:

  1. The Disappearance of Hell (Why don’t we hear much about it anymore?)
  2. The Reality of Hell (Hell can be defined as a place of conscious eternal punishment for the wicked. Mark 9:43-48; Matt. 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31; Matt. 10:28; Rev. 14:9-11; and other passages were used.)
  3. The Importance of Hell (Why should we care about it at all? Because Jesus thought it was important, most of all. Hell demonstrates the seriousness of sin, God’s love for us, the depths of Christ’s sacrifice for us, and God’s justice.

Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou my Lord shouldst die for me (and experience the Hell that I deserve)?

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Every now and then, we need to be reminded of what’s really important. What’s really important is the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

As the church of Jesus Christ, we know our purpose – to glorify God, our mission – to make disciples of all the nations, and our objectives – evangelism, worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry/service. But what is our message? Our message is the gospel.

God created us to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. We were meant to have intimate fellowship with Him and each other.

It’s painfully obvious, though, that something has changed in that relationship. It’s called sin. Adam and Eve, our first parents, disobeyed God and sought to be their own gods, in effect. As a result, they were removed from the garden of Eden, alienated and separated from God. Adam and Eve also passed their sin on to you and me, too. We’re sinful by nature and, in addition to that, we choose to sin. God is absolutely holy and righteous, which means that our sin cannot go unpunished. The penalty of sin is death, which we all deserve.

All of that is bad news – very bad. The good news is even better! In His grace, mercy, and love, God has provided a way that we can be right with Him – through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, lived a life of perfect obedience in our place, which satisfies God the Father’s demand for perfection. He died a sacrificial death for our sins as our substitute, which satisfied God’s demand for justice. He victoriously rose from the dead, which proved that He is who He claimed to be and that He accomplished what He came to do – save His people from their sins.

Our response is to repent and believe. We turn from our sins (repent) and put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, in who He is and what He’s done for us. We rest all of our ourselves body and soul on what He has done for us and not anything we can do for ourselves.

The bad news is that we are sinful and separated from God. The good news is that Jesus has reconciled us to the Father! But that reconciliation is not automatic, it comes through faith and faith alone (not by any works or merit on our part). Every one of us  has to answer the question of what we will do with Jesus Christ? We can trust ourselves or Christ, which will it be?

The gospel is by far the most important message we have to offer the world. Where else are they going to hear it? Nowhere, that’s where. Like Paul, may we not be ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes, the Jew first and also the Gentile (Rom. 1:16).

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The majesty of God’s forgiveness is lost entirely when we lose what has to be forgiven. What has to be forgiven is not just what we do but who we are, not just our sinning but our sinfulness, not just our choices but what we have chosen in place of God. This belief in our inherent innocence is belied by the kind of life we all experience, and, more importantly, it is also contradicted by Scripture. When we miss the biblical teaching, we also miss the nature of God’s grace in all its height and depth. In biblical faith it is God’s grace  through Christ that does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. In this kind of psychologized evangelicalism, grace works only around the margins of our self. It completes the bit that we cannot quite get done by ourselves.

David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant (p. 167)

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